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Empire: The Novel of Imperial Rome Hardcover – August 31, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 90 customer reviews
Book 2 of 2 in the Roma Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Saylor, well known for his Roma Sub Rosa historical mysteries, switched gears for his bestselling Roma and now continues the history of ancient Rome from A.D. 14 to 141 with a hefty tome of the Pinarius family as its members serve a succession of Roman emperors as soothsayers, senators, and artisans, while trying not to get killed in the slew of conspiracies that marked the Roman political scene. The patriarch, Lucius Pinarius, grooms his son, also named Lucius, to be a member of an ancient priesthood of soothsayers who interpret natural phenomenon to divine the future. Young Lucius is particularly skillful, earning the emperor's praise and confidence. Succeeding generations of Pinariuses will enjoy the favor of Trajan and Hadrian, but will suffer from the cruelty of Tiberius, the madness of Caligula, the depravity of Nero, and the murderous paranoia of Domitian. Saylor also vividly describes how the family survives the volcanic destruction of Pompeii, the burning of Rome, and the persecution of Jews and Christians. Though the ending is disappointingly abrupt, it does signal another volume to come in this grand series.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* How to deliver historical fiction about the Roman Empire at its height? Saylor, Latin scholar and author of the acclaimed Roma Sub Rosa mystery series, identifies one huge problem in his author’s note: “emperor-centricism.” The emperors command center stage in most accounts of Rome, as they did in life. That leaves, as Saylor puts it, “survivors and seekers,” those living at the edge of the emperors’ bidding. Saylor’s brilliant approach to bringing alive the period of the Roman Empire from the reign of Augustus to the burial of Hadrian is to focus on generations of one family, the Pinarii (introduced in Roma, 2007). The Pinarius family is aristocratic, so they afford readers an insider’s view into imperial palaces and gladiator games. Yet from Lucius the Augur, who begins the book, through Marcus the Sculptor, during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian, the family has been rocked, as all Romans were, by the upheavals and whims of the emperors. The Pinarii characters afford an excellent lens through which to view both imperial and daily life, and the great events of the span from 14 C.E. through 141 C.E., including the Great Fire, the persecutions of Christians, numerous military campaigns, and, of course, insanity and perversion among the emperors. Saylor is an excellent guide through this fascinating underworld. Superb historical fiction. --Connie Fletcher

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312381018
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312381011
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 2.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #937,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jason Golomb VINE VOICE on August 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Empire" is Steven Saylor's highly anticipated follow up to his centuries-spanning historical fiction saga, "Roma". Both books trace the ancestral evolution of the Pinarii family as they bear witness to the foundation and growth of Rome and its Empire. "Roma" covered the earliest foundations of Rome through the civil wars, while "Empire" picks up at the end of the reign of Augustus in 14 A.D. through the reign of Hadrian in 141.

Roman history is made up of fact, rumor, and myth, and Saylor hits on all of those elements in "Empire". Each of four chapters tells a discrete and self-contained story set during key moments in the real or mythological history of Rome involving both fictional and non-fictional characters and events.

Saylor uses the Pinarii like stepping stones across a stream of time; each stone provides just enough footing to propel the reader onto the next rock of time. The chapters place a different Pinarii generation under the spotlight and provide enough drama to fill an entire book in itself.

The chapters are highlight reels of their respective periods. In the early years, Saylor gives glimpses of Livia's evil which is very reminiscent of the Livia from "I, Claudius". He opens a window on Tiberius's sadistic hideaway on an island off the coast of Italy where he purportedly kept young boys for his own pleasure. The second chapter runs the gamut of Caligula's psychoses and Claudius' dramatically failed marriages. Readers also get a surprisingly poignant portrayal of Nero "fiddling" while Rome burns. In the third chapter, Saylor provides a historical discourse that includes the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius, the history of the development of the Flavian Amphitheater (known now as The Colosseum), and the rise and fall of the Flavian Emperors.
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It's hard to conceive that this book was written by the same person as Roma. It is such an amateur work. Roma was far from the best book on the period and the writing and characterizations were not exceptional, but it was highly readable. This books feels like a high school effort. I learned absolutely nothing I hadn't read elsewhere about the period. But even assuming the person who read this was new to the period and did learn a little, the writing style and characters were so poor that it still would not be a great read. It's too bad too because there was so much potential for this post-Augustus period of Rome that doesn't get nearly the attention of the pre-Caesar and Caesar period.

First, far too much of the story is doled out as unrealistically long exposition by the characters conversing with each other. Entire periods of history are covered this way with one sequence after another of characters sitting around at parties recalling events they often experienced first-hand but told as if they were lecturing small school children in history they had never heard. This is such a freshman writing mistake it is shocking it would come from such a seasoned author. There is no fathomable reason he couldn't have structured the story to actually have the characters in the action in real-time instead of just sipping wine and conversing on it.

Second, and related to the first, almost nothing happens to these characters. With one exception, they are almost entirely observers of events and not meaningful players. Or if they are shown to contribute, it is usually of no consequence to their person or status. In Roma, there were frequent, and more typical of multi-generational epics, reversals of fortunes.
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I am a big Steven Saylor fan. I have read and enjoyed his entire "Roma Sub Rosa" series, and I very much enjoyed "Roma," to which this piece, "Empire," is the sequel. Unfortunately, I found "Empire" to be a disappointment. The characterizations were flat and unconvincing, and there is very little by way of a plot here. The main theme is that most of Imperial Rome's emperors were morbidly bad rulers and in its way Imperial Rome was every bit as unstable as Republican Rome. This has the potential to be a great theme, but in my opinion Saylor misses his chance to harness this potential. There are long dreary passages about eunuchs, various types of gay love, etc., which can be entertaining and thematic in the right context, but Saylor fails to provide the context. (He does this with various degrees of greater success in some of his "Roma Sub Rosa" novels.) Here, these things are very much in the reader's face, and simply slow things down. About mid-way through the book they become an excruciating and intolerable distraction from what should have been the novel's main theme: life and politics in Imperial Rome.

I desperately wanted to enjoy and like this novel, but in my opinion Saylor scores a clean miss with this one. It goes off the rails and never gets going. Not recommended. RJB.
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If you love Steven Saylor's historical mysteries (I do), or you love historical fiction, or you are fascinated by the history of Ancient Rome, you will adore this book. It is somewhat similar in conception to books like James Michener's HAWAII (published years ago) and more recent works like NEW YORK the novel by Edward Rutherford, though those cover much wider swathes of time. Rather than staying in one time period, this novel gives you the broad sweep of history by linking together several stories or novellas set in the reigns of different Roman emperors. The link in this book is the history of the Pinarius family, who we met in Saylor's terrific earlier novel ROMA. We follow seceding generations of this family and see them work out their destinies against the backdrop of Roman history from the waning of the Augustan age until the reign of Hadrian.

This sort of historical novel has its strengths and limitations. It gives you sweep and a sense of a long period of history. It does not give you the pleasure of snuggling up with a single cast of characters for six hundred pages. I usually prefer novels to short stories because I like to live with one character for a while, but just the same, here I was along for the ride. Saylor hooked me in each chapter. He sketches character with a deft hand, and his evocation of the ancient setting makes Rome come alive. Both the fictional Pinarius family and real historical figures such as Nero were vivid and interesting to put it mildly. Saylor has the skill with plot that you would expect from a leading writer of mysteries, making this a great read.

You can agree or not with Saylor's take on historical personages. He obviously draws on exhaustive research using ancient sources. I do want to say a word for Livia.
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